Update on Baltimore bridge collapse: New bridge could cost nearly $2 billion, state official says

State officials said Thursday it could cost nearly $2 billion to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge, providing the clearest picture yet of efforts to replace a vital part of the local community and economy.

The state wants to be “as aggressive as we can,” but also set a realistic timeline for delivery, with an estimate for completion in the fall of 2028, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said.

The project will cost between $1.7 and $1.9 billion. Key Bridge was a hub for the Port of Baltimore’s access to out-of-state markets and played a critical role in travel along the Northeast Corridor, Wiedefeld said. According to his department, about $21.5 billion worth of freight passed through the bridge in 2023 alone.

“We’ve all seen the importance of that bridge to both the community and the Port of Baltimore, and you’ve seen it play out in traffic,” he said. “That traffic will change again when the port opens, so I think it will even increase the urgency to get this bridge open as quickly as possible.”

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The state must submit a cost estimate to the federal government as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Fund, which will cover the cost of the new bridge, he said.

The money to build the new bridge will join a series of recent federal infrastructure investments in Maryland.

The international spotlight was turned on Baltimore when the Key Bridge crumbled into the Patapsco River on March 26 after being struck by the massive Dali ship. The early morning disaster, which is currently under investigation by multiple federal agencies, fueled both conspiracy theories and expressions of solidarity with the families of the six construction workers who died.

Even before rescue efforts began, President Joe Biden vowed to “move heaven and earth” to rebuild the bridge quickly and with federal dollars. After an aerial helicopter tour of the wreckage with Governor Wes Moore on April 5, Biden promised that the new bridge would be made with union labor and American steel.

Gov. Wes Moore and President Joe Biden leave the Maryland Transportation Authority police headquarters in Dundalk for a press conference on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Lawmakers have said they will try to recoup costs from taxpayers once investigators determine responsibility for the disaster. Previous collapses of U.S. bridges, in which design firms, boat captains or other parties were found liable for damage, indicate that the process could be lengthy and unsuccessful.

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The FBI recently boarded the Dali as part of an ongoing criminal investigation to investigate whether the crew was aware of problems that caused the ship to lose power as it approached the channel under the bridge before entering the port of left Baltimore.

The state had an insurance policy on the Key Bridge that would result in a $350 million payout. Wiedefeld said he doesn’t anticipate any problems claiming the money that Maryland will ultimately use to repay the federal government.

State transportation officials will host an industry forum on May 7, where they will begin engaging potential contractors; the state plans to pursue a cable-stayed bridge to replace the continuous truss structure that stood before it.

Daniel Zawodny provides transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member at Report For America. A native of the Baltimore area, he graduated from American University in 2021 with his master’s degree in journalism. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously handled immigration issues.